Reframing the Marriage Debate: Wording, Context and Intensity of Support for Marriage and Civil Unions

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Principal investigators:

Brian J. McCabe

Georgetown University

Email: mccabeb@georgetown.edu

Homepage: http://brianjamesmccabe.com/

Jennifer A. Heerwig

Stony Brook University

Email: jenheerwig@gmail.com

Homepage: http://www.jenheerwig.com/


Sample size: 3000

Field period: 5/20/2009-7/29/2009

Abstract

The extension of marriage or civil unions to gay and lesbian couples has emerged as one of the most oft-debated policy issues in recent years. In response to the broadened public debate, research and polling organizations have sought to measure public attitudes on the topic. These polls vary widely in both the frames and context. Some polls frame the issue as one of gay and lesbian marriage, while others ask about same-sex marriage or homosexual marriage; likewise, many of the polls ask about marriage and civil unions concurrently, while others inquire about one without reference to the other. In this paper, we report the results of an Internet experiment on a nationally representative sample of American adults testing for framing and context effects in public attitudes towards the legal recognition of gay and lesbian relationships. We report no difference in mean support when respondents are asked about gay and lesbian, same-sex or homosexual marriage and civil unions, but observe substantial variation in the strength of opposition or support based on these frames. We also report an increase in support for civil unions when asked after the question about marriage, but do not find statistically significant context effects for marriage.

Hypotheses

We hypothesize that question wording (e.g., gay vs. same sex vs. homosexual) and context (the order of the questions on marriage & civil unions) affect levels of support and/or intensity of support.

Experimental Manipulations

We manipulate wording and context in the research questions.

Outcomes

Support for marriage (Strongly support, Support, Oppose, Strongly oppose)
Support for civil unions (Strongly support, Support, Oppose, Strongly oppose)

Summary of Results

We report no difference in mean support when respondents are asked about gay and lesbian, same-sex or homosexual marriage and civil unions, but observe substantial variation in the strength of opposition or support based on these frames. We also report an increase in support for civil unions when asked after the question about marriage, but do not find statistically significant context effects for marriage.

References

McCabe, Brian J. and Jennifer A. Heerwig. 2011. Reframing the Marriage Debate: Wording, Context, and Intensity of Support for Marriage and Civil Unions. International Journal of Public Opinion Research.